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Last Updated: Friday, 14 October 2005, 13:26 GMT 14:26 UK
Pet abuse law shake-up unveiled
From left clockwise: TV vet Emma Milne, David and Carole Gardiner, their dog Charlie,  RSPCA chief inspector Mark Puggie, MP Ben Bradshaw
Animal owners could face up to 20,000 fines
New measures to protect animals against abuse and to make owners legally liable for their pets' welfare in England and Wales have been published.

The Animal Welfare Bill, the first overhaul of pet law in 94 years, includes harsher fines of up to 20,000 and maximum jail terms of 51 weeks.

The minimum age for buying a pet will rise from 12 to 16.

Welfare groups say the Bill falls short in not banning tail docking and animals performing in circuses.

This Bill is aimed at those few who do not properly fulfil their responsibilities for the animals in their charge
Ben Bradshaw, animal welfare minister

Currently, enforcers such as the RSPCA cannot prosecute until there is veterinary evidence of suffering.

Animal Welfare Minister Ben Bradshaw said: "Once this legislation is enacted, our law will be worthy of our reputation as a nation of animal lovers."

He said it was a better way to ensure an animal's welfare rather than relying on a 94-year-old law designed to prevent outright cruelty.

"The vast majority of pet owners and others involved with the care of animals have nothing to fear from this legislation.

"This Bill is aimed at those few who do not properly fulfil their responsibilities for the animals in their charge."

Power to intervene

The Bill introduces a welfare offence for the first time and will give the RSPCA more power to intervene if their advice is ignored and they suspect a pet is being neglected.

Rescued stallion, Mungo (copyright: RSPCA)
Abuse could now be prevented before it became extreme
The new offence will carry a 51-week maximum jail term and maximum fine of 5,000.

The charity, which has long campaigned for the legislation, says its inspectors often have to visit animals being deprived of adequate food, water or shelter up to 25 times before action can be taken.

The government hopes the Bill will also deter persistent offenders with more stringent penalties increasing the maximum six-month jail term to 51 weeks and fines from a maximum of 5,000 to 20,000.

The measure will consolidate more than 20 separate pieces of legislation.

Minimum age

It will also increase the minimum age for buying a pet from 12 to 16, to stop children buying animals without parents' consent.

Unaccompanied children under 16 will not be able to win a pet, but accompanied children or adults will be able to - although those giving and receiving them will have to ensure they are cared for properly.

Animal mutilation will also be banned - with some exceptions. This would include castrating and spaying cats and dogs, ear-tagging and tail docking.

The issue of tail docking was an issue for Parliament to properly decide, said the government.

It will help reduce and prevent that and put the 'P' back into RSPCA, which is great
Becky Hawkes, RSPCA

Becky Hawkes, spokeswoman for the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, said: "We are absolutely delighted about the welfare offence.

"We have been campaigning for that for years and it will help us prevent thousands of pets from suffering where ongoing neglect is inevitably going to lead to death and serious injury.

"It will help reduce and prevent that and put the 'P' back into RSPCA, which is great."

But there were some areas, that the legislation did not go far enough, she said.

"We are disappointed on tail docking. We would like to see an entire ban on the tail docking of dogs, but hopefully Parliament will see fit to do that and amend the Bill accordingly," she said.

"We would also like a ban on the use of all animals in circuses."

See how one dog was rescued

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